David Shrigley: Little Drawings Big Issues

Colin selling David Shrigley Big Issue MagazinesColin the Big Issue seller had a busy week last week. His pitch is right outside the main entrance of the Cornerhouse that has just opened its doors to David Shrigley’s new show How Are You Feeling? and the ever-affable artist designed the cover on the magazine. “I sold 220 mags,” said Colin, “it’s a shame they couldn’t have kept it running for a couple of weeks as the picture on the front is really funny and a lot of the customers were very chatty about it saying if they did or didn’t like his work.” It’s no surprise Colin did such a roaring trade and became a canvas for other people’s opinions as David Shrigley is a now a well-known name in and out of the art world. Every time I passed Colin, said hello and asked him how sales were going, my curiosity rose about him. The next day I invited Colin to see the exhibition together.

Since bursting onto the art scene with his razor sharp funny black and white doodles in the 90s, David Shrigley has become one of the most popular artists in the UK. The opening night alone attracted more than 1,000 people to see installations, drawings, an interactive play and an on-going life-modelling class with your own artistic efforts finding a place on the gallery wall.

David Shrigley's cover for the BIg IssueHe’s gone on record many times saying that he can’t draw and works by intuition including a very funny anecdote about The New Statesman and his lack of technical skill in the sweetly written Big Issue article  by Katie Popperwell. Is he joking? Being self-deprecating? Truth in jest? How can a self-confessed man who says that he can’t draw become the artist of his generation? Perhaps like R.Mutt aka Marcel Duchamp’s urinal, that is going to be his biggest joke on the art world? When he stayed on to set up his studio in Glasgow after graduating from the School of Art with a 2:2 in Environmental Art and eschewing the London Brit-Art scene, his higher brow contemporaries didn’t think it he would be the one to make it big. By the end of the millennium it was his art work that had become hot property and spawned a million imitators. Even dark arts master himself David Lynch got in on his style with Dumbland and you can read what the other David thought of his efforts. To demonstrate the enigma of the can’t-draw-still-successful debate even more simply take a look at this picture by David Shrigley of Katie Popperwell (after staring at her for ages) and you decide.

Artist’s Impression  Real Life

After sharing a Cornerhouse pizza and a little about our lives Colin and I went upstairs to check out the work curated by Mike Chavez-Dawson. As we wandered round he said art didn’t feature in his life in fact he’d never been in an art gallery before. He’s sold the Big Issue since 1996 first in Birmingham and then in Manchester. The spot outside the Cornerhouse has been his office from lunch-time everyday for the last eight months. Inside all the venue staff said hey, hello or hi and our waitress said how nice it was to see him inside the buidling. I explained that this show was themed around mental health with an interactive and therapeutic remit to it but for me the real beauty of David Shrigley’s ability to connect lay in the words accompanying the images that let people know the deeper more serious message. I looked up pleased with my art critique but Colin was off and away saying ‘wow’ as he saw the gong in the installation room, he wrote ‘Not Bad’ on the How Are You Feeling? white board and laughed out loud when he saw the big black bag called The Burden.

“It’s like a giant rucksack.”

“Yeah you’re meant to pick it up and carry it around but it’s broken at the moment so you can’t.”

“Someone broke the burden?”

“Yeah, someone broke the burden.”

Colin’s a tall man, maybe as tall as David Shrigley at 6′ 5″, and he’s weathered well in forty-five years despite many personal battles. Up in the drawings room I watched as he mooched around with ease at the relentless barrage of images fly-postered one on top of the other on the gallery wall. He stopped and stared and chuckled at various pictures and as we were exiting he called me over to share matter-of-factly, “I relate to these”:

  David Shrigley Image How Are You Feeling?       David Shrigley Images How Are You Feeling?      David Shrigley images at Manchester Cornerhouse


How Are You Feeling? David Shrigley Life Model

On the top floor of the gallery there is a giant naked male mannequin for visitors to have a go at drawing and leave their own mark on the wall. I opted out having two left hands but Colin said he’d done a bit of art at school and took to the task with aplomb. After a while I glanced nervously around at Colin to make sure I wasn’t going mad but he was engrossed in his chalk masterpiece. Suddenly the model’s big blue eyes blink and his relaxed penis pisses water (I hope) into a bucket on the floor in front of him. I got up and left Colin to carry on with his drawing to look at the other pictures by visitors on the wall. It’s nice and friendly I thought how often is it you get the opportunity to come and be a part of the art world.

“You alright Colin?”

“Yeah it’s been nice I’m just signing my name.”

As he stuck his picture on the wall I saw that he’d signed his full name – Colin Britt – and that he’d written BIG ISSUE like a tattoo on the model’s arm. A few minutes later we were back outside in the cold and he was shouting those words to people passing him by on the street.

How Are You Feeling?The Big Issue in the North is available now from Colin outside the Cornerhouse most days from about lunchtime onwards for £2 of which he gets £1.

How Are You Feeling? a new book by David Shrigley is available from the Cornerhouse bookshop and website for a special price of £10 (rrp£12) during the length of the exhibition. I don’t know how much David Shrigley’s cut is probably not as good as Colin’s.


Yayoi Kusama: Infinity Lights and Beyond…

If you like your seeing spots before your eyes then it doesn’t get any better than 83-year-old Japanese artist Yayoi Kusama’s Gleaming Lights of the Souls now showing at the Louisiana Museum of Modern Art, Copenhagen, Denmark. Using mirrors and LEDs she reflects multi-coloured balls of electric light to shine on endlessly forever into eternity and beyond. Her famous piece Infinity Mirror Room – Love Forever is about to go under the hammer on a price tag of £350,000 by Christie’s London. And while this might make you purse your lips previous work has gone for £3.1million in 2008. (A record for a living female artist.) Yes she makes a shed load of money, yes she spearheaded installation art thirty years before its boom time in the 1990s, but it is her ability to take the dotty hallucinations that she has experienced since childhood and transform them into the transcendental message of the never-ending universe that elevates her up into the upper echelons of human consciousness defying all categorisation – apart from, what a beam of light. Om shanti shanti indeed.

Cool pix by Andy Speak

Andy Speak in Infinite Lights


Cat Power: A Speck of Sunlight in the Dark

There’s a striking comparison these days between old Cat Power and new Cat Power. One is slit your wrists depressing the other a professionally applied lint bandage by one of our very own darling NHS nurses. Charlyn Marie Marshall aka Chan (pronounced like the Welsh name Sian) Marshall aka Cat Power has the deep southern blues in her blood and spills her guts with ease about topics and truths we can’t bear to think about. You know, well we don’t as we don’t like mention them in polite conversation –  sadness, broken hearts, pain, alcoholism, child abuse, death et cetera. Yet for the first time on the new album Sun (recorded in Silverlake, LA) she sounds, dare I say, kind of happy in her sadness. What’s the change? Has anybody seen the old Cat Power? Is she off the booze and drugs? Is it because she ditched the guitar and piano for drumbeats? Did someone say chin up it might never happen?

Lord knows what the truth is about her she probably doesn’t know herself beyond it being a new departure musically and hence a good career move. She’s beautiful and talented with a  voice that sets off emotional volcanoes so there’s a lot of factoids on the myth making machine of the internet. You can read all about it yourself starting with high priest of information Wikipedia and all the associated footnotes. But as any fool knows the only way to try and understand an artist is through their work. This takes time. So to save you all I’ve made a Cat Power playlist tracking her transition out of the slow-moving suffocating darkness of the early years into the relative light of the most recently released album Sun.

Cat Power – What Would The Community Think
Cat Power – Taking People
Cat Power – No Sense
Cat Power – Colors And The Kids
Cat Power – Babydoll
Cat Power – Names
Cat Power – American Flag
Cat Power – I Don’t Blame You
Cat Power – The Greatest
Cat Power – Sea of Love
Cat Power – Cross Bones Style
Cat Power – Nude As The News
Cat Power – He War
Cat Power – Free
Cat Power – 3,6,9
Cat Power – Ruin
Cat Power – Manhattan
Cat Power – Cherokee
Yoko Ono and Cat Power – Revelations

(Get Spotify and subscribe to get it as a joblot.)

Now as any artist knows the only way to understand their work is through their audience. And this is without a doubt the area that Cat Power surpasses herself and the fans gets their twopenneth worth. Critics in the past have slagged off her performances at best as shambolic with long stretches of time spent tuning her guitar or talking to friends in the crowd proclaiming that she only knows how to play one chord or whole sets played as one song merging endlessly into another, a bit like reggae, but this is what we love her for. And on she stumbles from chaos to disaster and then ultimately into strength through her vulnerability. We all root for her. We all laugh. She joins us in the dark and then strikes a match.

In the subterranean dark of Liquid in New York on my 30th birthday, I shouted out for Candle in the Wind and she answered back, ‘Mary, Mary is that you?’ Well what could I do but answer, ‘Yes!’ ‘How are you?’ said Chan, ‘It’s been soooo long.’ Time and an inexplicable overwhelming feeling prevents me recalling what I then answered back but I do remember kudos (or was it scorn?) pouring over me from the rest of a crowd that included Courtney Love for being her friend. Probably her oldest bestest friend in New York no doubt. See her perform the happy album and pretend your name is Mary.


Can the Real Eric Beasley Please Stand Up?

Back in 2007 when I was alone and going out under the pretence of being into culture I found myself at Jack Daniels promoted late night TV showcase for UK bands. It sounds more glamorous that it was. For a start it was at the Night and Day. For a finish it was in Manchester. Both renown places of ever increasing circles of stubbornness to dive style, indifference to the world-at-large and working class ethics. Thank God.

I can’t remember who was on the bill that night so no chance of me dredging up any musical highlights. What I can recall in crystal clear memory is how I won this Jack Daniels Fender guitar instead of a man called Eric Beasley. It’s signed by The Aliens so I presume they played.

Suddenly Mark Riley, or Lard as he’s known to all people north of Watford Gap, was the curator of tumbleweed moment after announcing the winner of the guitar competition.

Lard’s words, ‘Eric Beasley, Eric Beasley are you here?’ floated off lost to the night unclaimed and unloved.

‘Eric you’re not in the bogs are you?’ he quipped desperately trying to fill the  void.


No reply.

Not a dickie bird.

The stillness and the dark begged for some action. An opportunistic thought fed on booze mushroomed in my mind and let me know that under no uncertain circumstances I was the woman to fill it.

Automatically I pulled my wooly cap down low and cleaved a temporarily unwanted bosom flat under each armpit.

‘Yessss,’ I growled in a low what I thought was manly voice ascending the side of the stage.

‘Congratulations lad,’ said Lard eyeballs wide with suspicion and relief. He thrust the microphone at me. I pushed it aside and trophied the guitar high into the air towards the cameras.

And the rest is, as they say, falsifying someone else’s identity and blagging it.

As I’m now selling this item my conscience can’t let me do it without putting a call-out for Eric to share in the spoils.

So if you are, or know Eric Beasley, please get in touch.

The Aliens are a pretty cool band but it was really this song that made me fall in love with The Beta Band that took me to the gig that night.

And congrats to John Maclean on his recently won BAFTA for best short film.


A Groom with Nearly No Name – Derby Death Dignified

Ten hours after the 138th Kentucky Derby Guatemalan groom Adan Fabian Perez, 48, was found dead in a stable barn only metres from the trackside where I’d spent the day watching the races.

I left the country the following day, if I’d stayed I’d have helped the Perez family by writing a serious companion piece to the gonzo-lite look I took at American life.

In the end I didn’t have to: in fact, couldn’t have done it any better than this; Johnette Howard’s extraordinarily compassionate piece of sports journalism.

Against all odds, she managed to restore the dignity of Mr Perez’s life in death and for the family he left behind.


Booze, Bets, Oh and a Horse Race too…The Kentucky Derby

The 138th Kentucky Derby – The View from the Backside.

A red-stitched baseball cap wearing man named Jamie swigged a Miller High Life and said, ‘I’m going to pace myself to three or four beers an hour.’ He was the favorite to fall first. An internal sweepstake had him pegged to go by 12.34pm. His wife Sophie, who wasn’t wearing a hat, knew better. She drawled confidently under her breath with more than a hint of pride that, ‘thatt mahn cahn ruhn and ruhn’. She should’ve saved her breath. All bets were off for this unofficial first race of the derby. A cool skinny white man wearing a basket weave flat cap and a Casio digital watch was already unconscious. Cliff was out like a light. His head slumped back awkwardly into a camping chair caught in the shade of the gazebo. LCD digits dangling out from under the sleeve of his charity shop seersucker Prada jacket said 08:59am.

Thumbing through the centimeter thick program for the day there were thirteen races to lose our hard earned money on. Betting systems varied; Lana, not wearing a hat, chose every horse with a turquoise saddle-cloth, I, wearing a joke plastic jockey hat with taped on black goggles, very sensibly went off previous form. Others in the group of friends even more sensibly closed their eyes and jabbed at the page with a pen. Jamie piped up that nobody had ever won out of gate nineteen. Nobody paid him much mind. He shrugged, drained another bottle of High Life and trotted off in hairdryer heat to place his bets. He was not alone. The ‘greatest two minutes in sport’ as the main race is known globally or more locally as the ‘Race for the Roses’ attracts c160,000 spectators to Churchill Downs and 15m television viewers. It is the oldest continuous sporting event in American history and carries with it a $2,000,000 prize tag for the winner. Punters’ bets totaled from all sources were expected to reach a record $187 million.

The odds and sods inside the track pan out like this: the rich and famous fill up the iconic two spires main grandstand; the hedonistic beasts slug it out in the in-field until bourbon, mint julep cocktails or the heat take them down; if you own a horse, or belong to the itinerant Latin American community of stable hands or are lucky enough to know someone that works at the track you can get, where I was now residing seventy bucks lighter, into the backside.

‘No side like the backside,’ said Graham, wearing a straw top hat and aviator shades, ‘It’s the best place to be. You don’t have to get dressed up, you can bring in enough supplies to eat like a horse and drink like a fish all day long.’

The friends I was with were spectacular to this commitment. They were a loving bunch who’d stuck to each other over the years by a bond much stronger than all the drinks at all the derby days ever run.

Most of us had hit the hay by mid-afternoon. A bi-plane moaning a message across the sky woke me up.

‘What’s it doing?’

‘A circle…’

‘An eyebrow…’

‘A smiley face….’

‘A cloud smiley face…’

In the shade of the stables horses hung their heads over saloon doors cooling themselves on electric fans. At the end in a dormitory room half the size a Mexican family watched the races live on a small television fixed up onto the wall.

‘We love the horses,’ said the black baseball cap wearing Padre, who didn’t want to be identified, ‘There is a great tradition of cowboys in our lives. We invented the cowboy through the vaqueros and Spain. Horses are in our blood.’

Outside in early evening sun a loose coherence suddenly came across the crowd as the state anthem My Old Kentucky Home injected anticipation and offered some semblance of order into the atmosphere. In the small spectator stand, a man wearing a white cap with Breeders Cup embroidered on the back sucked heavily on cigarette. Worked to the bone, his weathered body swayed precariously as he climbed to his feet on his seat. He was too zonked to sing along to Stephen Forster’s old slave lament song instead he swayed and  blew out a hard line of smoke that fumigated the crowd.

‘Put that thing out,’ screeched a woman wearing a tennis brim right into the back of his head, ‘for the love of God you’re killing us.’

Another man, wearing a grey baseball cap complete with earpiece, binoculars and a video camera pointing at the first bend took it upon himself to become the race commentator.

He started saying, ‘Bodemeister. It’s Bodemeister. Still Bodemeister…’ long before we saw any action on the track. Then suddenly the thundering hooves of nineteen thoroughbreds appeared with boy-men jockeys jammed on top.

‘Bodemeister, Bodemeister, Bodemeister,’ continued the opportunistic commentator.

‘Bodemeister, Bodemeister, Bodemeister, BODE- I’LL HAVE ANOTHER has won. I’ll Have Another RIDDEN BY MEXICAN JOCKEY MARIO GUTIERREZ HAS WON!’ he exploded.

‘Unbelievable,’ said Jamie, ‘That’s the first time I’ve picked the derby winner. I want another beer.’

Why Work with a Writer?

Dear You,

You might well wonder what are the benefits of working with a writer?

I often have thought that myself. Why would I employ me?

But when you get into it and see the differences between words that serve as a function and words that are borne out of good writing, well they speak for themselves.

Take one little word. A noun. A naming word. This has the power to brand a planet or open doors into another person’s world.

Words that are strung together coherently and creatively – using the right word at the right time in the right place – makes words the supreme mode of communication.

Why else use a writer?

Sometimes it is difficult to see what needs to be said when you are in the thick of it. Working with a writer gives you an outside ear and eye and a more objective perspective.

Being able to see things clearly, get to the heart of a story and then communicate it so it connects properly with people are just some of the key benefits a writer can bring.

It also makes saying those things that you do well a heaven of a lot easier!

Perhaps you want to move up to the next level but aren’t quite sure how to express that or which path to choose.

Or perhaps you’re a bit shy about bigging yourself up or feel awkward bragging or maybe you find it difficult to identify and express the killer sales angles about yourself and your enterprise.

It can work the other way too. Perhaps in your enthusiasm to persuade people, reach new markets or even just casually network the words come out too direct or the key message or theme is muddled.

Either way it doesn’t quite hit the target.

And we don’t want that. Do we?

So, for me, when I ask myself, ‘Why work with a writer?’ the biggest benefit (and joy of the job) is helping you find your voice to say something special.

When you do that, you feel confident that you can connect clearly, creatively and commercially with the world.

And that’s something we all want more of, isn’t it now?

Drop me a line for further information or to have a little natter about your needs.

Literally yours,